Journeying from Naxos swiftly towards Crete,
Leaving behind him now the Cyclades,
Those island gems that necklace the blue sea
With strings of pearl, and emerald Sporades,
Bacchus, as the swift bark skimmed, dipped, and leaped
Beneath the fluttering canvas, softly slept.
The god had left his panthers in fair Crete,
His thyrsus-bearers and his corybants,
His frolic satyrs and his Indian pomp,
In vineyard caverns and in forest haunts;
And, now alone, his beauteous limbs at rest,
The cypress-planks of a poor galley prest.
The boat by magic moved upon the wave,
The sea-nymphs drew it thro’ the deep unseen;
Great dolphins gambolled round the frothing keel,
White sea-birds flew above the ripples green.
While Iris from a bright cloud smiled to see
That youthful god disdain the wrathful sea.
Sudden from Lemnos, rising bleak and blue,
Down sea-side crags the eager robbers came,
Leaping to man their boats and seize the prize,
Seeing the heedless craft; no fear or shame
Restrained that rude, fierce horde; a hundred oars
At the same moment pushed off from those shores.
Waving their knives and darts, they leaped aboard,
Yelling out war cries, with a druuken glee;
Flashing their axes, and their crooked swords,
In ravenous rage, and murderous ecstasy.
But still the youth upon the sunny prow,
Slept with one hand crossing his fair white brow.
Enraged to find no spices, wine, or gold,
With blows they woke him, and with laughter grim, Binding him to the mast with biting cords,
That made the blood spring from each radiant limb.
Then piling pine-knots, vowed to sacrifice
To Vulcan this fair youth, their trembling prize.
“Spare me!” he cried, “my mother sighs for me
In Naxos, where my father, old and blind,
Begs for his bread. O, Fate! thou mystery,
That brought me to this woe. O! seamen kind,
Spare a poor youth, so free from sin and blame,
And do not give me to that cruel flame.”
Then one relented; but they stabbed that man,
And threw him bleeding to the wistful sharks,
And then ’mid cymbal-clash and barbarous drum,
Blew from the smouldering logs the crimson sparks,
Unbound the lad and threw him on his knees,
Singing their savage hymns to the hushed seas.